I am surprised how some oncologists are still telling their breast cancer patients to not drink soy milk or eat soy products. Their rationalization, and what they tell their
patients, is that the phytoestrogens in soy products mimic that of the estrogen in our bodies and therefore can promote breast cancer. As an integrative nutrition health coach I then have a challenging time trying to reverse this fear when clients come to me who have either already been diagnosed with breast cancer or who went through conventional therapies, are in remission, and are trying to prevent reoccurrence. So I’m writing this in yet another attempt to alleviate worry.
Here are some basics. There is estrogen, what is in our bodies, also called endogenous estrogens, and there are phytoestrogens, or plant estrogens, “phyto” means plant, which is found in what else…plants. With the estrogen in our body there are 2 types of estrogen receptors — alpha (ERa) and beta (ERb) receptors. Now the estrogen in our bodies will bind to both alpha and beta receptors but phytoestrogens are more picky and prefer binding to beta receptors. This is important to understand because here is where people often get tripped up. These alpha and beta receptors function differently and often in opposite ways. Alpha estrogen receptors (ERa) are associated with increased cell production (proliferation) and progression of disease, whereas beta estrogen receptors (ERb) are associated with having protective effects. Tamoxifen, an estrogen blockade drug, specifically binds to alpha receptors (ERa), not beta receptors ERb, to block cell proliferation. (1,2) So beta activation has an anti-estrogenic effect that inhibits growth promoting effects of actual estrogen.
Estradiol in breast cells, which is the primary human estrogen, acts completely opposite to those of soy phytoestrogens. Studies show that eating 1 cup of soybeans causes significant beta receptor activation, thereby inhibiting growth promoting effects of estrogen. (3,4,5)
In 2009 the Journal of the American Medical Association published the first human study pertaining to soy intake and breast cancer survival. The results were positive stating “among women with breast cancer, soy food consumption was significantly associated with decreased risk of death and [breast cancer] recurrence.” More studies have been conducted since that time, looking at over 10,000 breast cancer patients, and all have had similar results. (6,7,8) Improved survival accounts for both estrogen receptor negative and estrogen receptive positive tumors, as well as for both younger and older women. (9)
I hope this sheds more light on the soy controversy in relation to breast cancer. I know one can go crazy trying to figure out the best plan for themselves. It’s daunting, and scary, and all consuming but just remember most cancers are a lifestyle disease, and to create an overall healthy lifestyle is not just about “Should I consume soy products or not?” Take a deep breath, back up a bit, and focus on creating a beautiful and fulfilling life for yourself. This is a journey. Visualize the life of your dreams. Yes, cancer may be in it. Cancer may be a part of it. But f—- cancer (pardon the language). You are so much more than those cells. Go and create your beautiful, wellness, healthy lifestyle, and enjoy the process. Oh and while you're doing so, have a cup of organic non-GMO soy milk while you’re at it. ;-)
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